Lone Ranger?: Chaitar's Fight Against BJP's Power Play In Gujarat

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Lone Ranger? Chaitar’s Fight Against BJP’s Power Play In Gujarat

| Updated: May 7, 2024 17:40

The call from the Bharatiya Janata Party came four days after Chatir Vasava won the assembly election on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket. “I was at our Kul Devi’s temple and was offering my gratitude when their leader called me,” Vasava recalled.

One of the five winning AAP candidates in the 2022 Gujarat assembly elections, Vasava, then 34, had secured his seat from Dediapada, a tribal-dominated constituency in the hilly southern region of the state. The call by the BJP seemed surprising to him; the party had won a thumping victory in the assembly elections, bagging 156 of the 182 seats, the highest in Gujarat’s history. With no apparent need for outside support, the BJP’s interest in Vasava was intriguing.

He said, “The Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from this region, who knows me personally, urged me to meet their leader. Given the BJP’s position as the ruling party, as an MLA I feel obliged to meet them to address the needs of my voters.”

During the meeting, the BJP state leader proposed, “You resign from the MLA post, we will give you a ticket to contest the election,” Vasava claims. When Vasava asked about the possibility of being appointed as the state’s minister for tribal affairs, the leader replied, “Will see once you secure victory.”

Rejecting the offer, Vasava found himself facing a legal challenge from the BJP by January 2023, alleging irregularities in his election affidavit. “They pressurised me and suggested that the court would end my term as an MLA if I did not take a decision in favour of their offer,” he asserted.

Throughout the court proceedings, the BJP leaders constantly urged, “Take a decision, you have only 15 more days.”

In October, the court ruled in Vasava’s favour.

Soon after, Gujarat police charged the young MLA and four others, including his wife, with assaulting forest department employees – a case Vasava says was fabricated.

After evading arrest for several weeks, Vasava surrendered to the police in mid-December, just a day after another AAP MLA Bhupendra Bhayani resigned from the Gujarat assembly. A week later, Congress MLA Chirag Patel did the same.

During Vasava’s one-and-a-half-month imprisonment, another Congress MLA, CJ Chavda, resigned. Days after Vasava’s release on bail in early February, Bhayani, Patel and Chavda joined the BJP. In March two other Congress MLAs too resigned and joined the BJP.

All four former Congress MLAs are now contesting the assembly bypolls on BJP tickets. The announcement of the election on Bhayani’s seat is awaited.

These bypolls coincide with the Lok Sabha elections on May 7. The BJP won all 26 Lok Sabha seats from Gujarat in both 2014 and 2019.

However, this time the party is contesting only 25 seats. In Surat, the BJP candidate won unopposed after the Congress candidate’s nomination was rejected and all other candidates withdrew. One of them confessed to withdrawing after being approached by the BJP. In Gandhinagar, where 16 candidates withdrew, three alleged pressure from the BJP and the state police to withdraw from the contest.

In none of the constituencies did the BJP face any significant electoral challenge, which has maintained a winning streak since 1989. In Gandhinagar, Amit Shah secured a winning margin of over 5.5 lakh votes in 2019.

In the ambitious political project of BJP where it wants to make the state opposition-free, some leaders persist with their resistance.

Chaitar Vasava, the AAP legislative party leader, is now contesting the Lok Sabha election from Bharuch, challenging six-time BJP MP Mansukh Vasava. Similarly, Congress legislative party leader Amit Chavda is contesting the Lok Sabha election from Anand against the BJP’s Mitesh Patel.

These contests offer insights into the formidable challenges faced by the opposition as they attempt to counter the BJP’s near-total dominance in Gujarat. Surprisingly, Anand and Bharuch also opened a small window of opportunity for democratic challengers amid the consolidation of power.

In a dimly lit hall of the Satyagraha cantonment in Borsad, an old building steeped in history, a pigeon perches on a lattice window. The site, which was once instrumental in shaping Gujarat’s history, serves as the headquarters of Amit Chavda’s Lok Sabha campaign.

It was here that Sardar Patel led the Borsad satyagraha against British taxes in the 1920s. His daughter later won parliamentary elections from Kheda and later Anand in the 1950s.

Amit Chavda’s grandfather, Ishwar Chavda, a freedom fighter and Congress MLA, left an indelible mark by promoting educational institutions and facilitating the empowerment of the Kshatriya community, which makes up nearly half of Anand’s population.

However, despite the historical resonance, Congress has suffered setbacks and lost seats for decades. Amid all this, Amit Chavda has remained steadfast, having seen the party’s fluctuating fortunes over the years.

The exodus of MLAs, including prominent ones like Arjun Modhwadia, underlines the challenges posed by the BJP’s long-standing hold on power. The BJP’s extensive organizational structure and resource advantage over the Congress has further exacerbated these challenges, leaving the Congress largely dependent on caste networks for support.

Chirag Patel’s move from the Congress to the BJP highlights the organizational disparity between the two parties. While the BJP boasts a strong infrastructure, the Congress often leaves its candidates to fend for themselves after ticket allocation.

This asymmetry extends to the physical realm, with the BJP’s campaign headquarters showing corporate-like efficiency, a stark contrast to the dilapidated state of the Congress office.

The political landscape in Bharuch is further complicated by caste dynamics and local grievances. Despite being a tribal stronghold, Vasava faces challenges from within his own community. The contest in Bharuch has become symbolic of the larger socio-political currents in Gujarat, with tribal and Muslim communities potentially reshaping the electoral landscape. Yet, amid these complexities, Chaitar Vasava stands firm, determined to challenge the BJP’s dominance and offer a viable alternative.

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